Last Tuesday, we finally got to work with our first therapy dog! Oliver came in to help us test out some ideas that we had come up with previously in the week. Shifting a little away from just stress, we decided to look at the effects a therapy dog might have on pain. Our thinking here was that therapy dogs are often used in hospital settings; what if they can actually be present during or immediately after painful procedures, treatments, etc.? At first we thought about the potentially great effects they may have with a patient undergoing chemotherapy- to help with the pain, the boredom, the nausea, etc. However, due to health precautions, therapy dogs would most likely not be able to work in this setting. But the idea got us thinking, and we came up with some other potential sites where we can measure the effects of therapy dogs (more on that later).
So back to our study that Oliver helped us out with. Through our literature searches, we’ve found that salivary cortisol levels would be the most accurate way to measure stress levels; however, we do not have the funding to do so. We’ve decided to look at Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), while also recording pulse and blood pressure. For this study, we induced stress (and pain) by submerging our feet in an ice bath- which was about 42 degrees Fahrenheit. OUCH.
The way this study worked was we hooked each other up to the GSR and blood pressure cuff and took a baseline of both of those. Then, we brought Oliver in and had him sit our lap while we then submerged our right foot in the freezing cold water while getting GSR, BP, and pulse. We did this for three minutes- which may not seem like a long time, but it is when your foot is in that ice bath!
After the three minutes, we removed our foot from the ice bath and rested for 10 minutes. After ten minutes, we did it again, but this time with our left foot and no dog. Our goal was to see if there was a change from baseline and if having Oliver made a difference or not.
Unfortunately, our results were not completely consistent, nor did they show the dog having much of an impact. However, we all noticed that the ice bath seemed more bearable while we were holding and petting Oliver.
So even though the physiological measures did not show much of a difference, we believe that questionnaires would. So we are looking into some reliable questionnaires that we can use in addition to the physiological measures that we have been using.